Frustrated with mandatory online reservations

**This is likely not the place to entertain my thoughts about most campgrounds in the U.S. going to online reservations only…but I think it’s short-sighted and flawed.
My opinion only.
It doesn’t work for the camping gypsies that are random in their wanderings. We stayed at numerous campgrounds that have no cell service whatsoever…so if plans change when you are on the road…you are hamstrung. Not to mention arriving at a campground only to see “Reserved” sites remain vacant, and unrentable. Why not monetarily penalize those that reserve and no-show? Perhaps that would curtail that broad problem. Rant over…interested if I’m alone on this topic.

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If you reserve and pay for a campsite, but don’t show up, you lose your $$. It sucks for FCFS campers, but it’s the cost of camping in the National forest campgrounds.

We personally do not do FCFS since we have a 34’ 5th wheel and cannot guarantee a spot that we can fit in.

If you are tent or car camping, you have much more flexibility and can definitely do FCFS spots, and should if you are inclined.

Understand that there are campers who aren’t encumbered by the cost and will book and pay for spaces just in case. Don’t try to figure it out or judge. We don’t know what their story is. Take a different spot, and if you really want that site in the future, book and pay for it, building your trip around it.

It’s not a matter of judgment or callousness towards someone’s personal story…it’s a matter of a person’s selfishness…to think only of oneself and not another…the lack of common decency or courtesy to cancel.
In this world of instants, it takes nothing to cancel. If a patient fails to cancel a doctors appointment they are charged…so the predominance of patients call and cancel their appointments when they can’t make it. Personal responsibility should not be a thing of the past.
Some will say…”oh that’s different.” But it isn’t.
Then there are those that use or even design “bots” to secure campsite through online reservations. Securing coveted campgrounds light years faster than a human can press the ‘book now’ button.
Not to mention those that work the ‘length of stay’ maximums by using there partner’s or spouse’s name to string that 14 day max to 28. That’s simply wrong and an abuse of the flawed and limited system in place.

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I hate the reservation system for several reasons. #1 if you book show up. I’ve been in campgrounds with reserved signs that sat vacant all night and next morning while people who needed a site drive through without success.
#2We travel full time in a small SUV. Sometimes pitch our tent. More often sleep in car. The huge land yachts that require or want all themini ties are driving up the cost for everyone. Those of us who can’t or refuse hotel rates for a piece of ground with a pit toilet are boondocking inky to find the land yachts out there too. If you can afford the $100,000 motor home you can afford to pay the cost but leave some place for the rest of us.
#3 There’s no solution to the paid for, sit empty campsites. Maybe if its 8, you’re late campsite is avail.
My rant over. Be safe out there.

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@Dave_V I’m with you on this one. We now don’t leave home without knowing where we will stay each night and sometimes we are on the road for a month or more at a time, so a lot of planning is required. We were in Arches NP two years ago and there were signs posted that the campground was full but there were at least a quarter of spaces vacant the entire three days we were there.

It seems I get text, e-mail, AND phone reminders for appointments - doctor, salon, etc. while at home but on the flip side, the reason we were able to get our van fixed before our upcoming road trip is that FOUR people did not show for their service appointments! That being said, yes, there are many reasons for no-shows and some are likely valid plus some systems make it very difficult to cancel. If you have reserved a one-night stay, at many campgrounds you will not get any money back (plus I have seen that some charge a cancellation fee) so many will choose to just not show. I agree it is frustrating!

Personally, I’m much more of a planner than a gypsie so I always make sure I have reservations in place and my trip mapped out before leaving, but I can understand your point.

I think we all agree the frustration of seeing empty spots in campgrounds supposedly at 100% capacity. However, if someone has a reservation and can’t make it, there is no incentive to call and cancel even at the last minute since they pay for the site anyway. Rather than a penalty, I think campgrounds should offer a refund (full or partial) if a site is cancelled even the day before and the CG can find a camper for that site in the meantime. I suspect finding a last minute camper to take the spot would happen far more nowadays than it has in the past and it seems like a win for everyone involved.

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Be careful with insulting people with motorhomes. Because you don’t choose that style of camping, does not entitle you to make disparaging comments about those who do.

Imagine what they could say about your choices to “get away”…
Just a slippery slope to launch a rant on one class of campers.


Not insulting. Just facts. RVi g and Camping are different things altogether. Have a great day and stay safe.


I have mixed opinions on this. If you’re taking a big family trip to see a popular park, knowing that you’ll have a campsite when you get there is a huge benefit. This is especially true if you’ll be arriving later in the day when finding a site is really tough. But I’d like to see 1/4 to 1/3 of the sites non-reservable.

The camp hosts really need to be ruthless with no-shows. If not arrived on first night by 8 PM - cancel the entire reservation, for example. This is the policy in many places but sporadically enforced. I hate seeing the “Campground Full” sign go out at 3 PM knowing that 20% of the sites are multi-day no-shows.

I’d also like a better wait list system implemented at the campgrounds. If you’ve never trolled around a NPS campground at 8:30 AM looking for people breaking camp, you haven’t spent enough time camping at high season. It is no fun for the trollers or the people trying to sleep in.

And unless camping is only up temporarily due to COVID, we just don’t have enough campsites in our most popular parks. As much as I dislike the mega campgrounds, I’d rather people be camping in our parks if they want than staying in chain motels just outside the entrance because there was nowhere to camp. We need to build more sites.

Good observations and good points.

On the App Store (apple) look up Campsite Notifier. It is currently free but I am going to have to charge to make up for what I put into it. It will notify you of cancellations by email and, if you allow notifications on your iphone, it will do it there too. Almost always, within 5 days there are cancellations. But you have to be very quick and jump at it when you get the notification. I just got a spot in the sierra last weekend. Glad I did.
I did this because of exactly what you stated. Also, if after you use it for a couple of times you can go ahead and rate it and write something I will provide a handful of free notifications. But again, right now it is free. Email me any time with constructive criticism. It is only for national park/national forest and anything on recreation gov.

I agree with cancelling the no-shows but this just doesn’t happen at national parks/forests. People have travel issues and they paid for the spot. I went to Arches last year with my son. Got there at 11pm dead tired. There were probably 30% with nobody in the sites!!! How frustrating. I almost pitched my tent (I have before) but I had too much gear and was traveling across country with my boy and geriatric dog. Just didn’t feel like dealing with the hassle with the park ranger in the morning.

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I also find it frustrating when a reservation is required and there’s no way to make a last minute reservation either because there’s no cell service (I was in the Smokies a few years ago and one place had a phone number, but you had to go back to the visitor center to get coverage!). Some state parks require reservations be made at least a day ahead, also problematic if there are empty sites.

The “reserve” signs are often problematic as they don’t always mean the site IS reserved, just that it’s reservable.

I would like to see reservations routinely cancelled and sites opened if camper is ano show for the first night. I’d also like to see penalties for campgrounds where if you have made reservations and then fail to cancel and don’t show up or don’t use it for the entire time, you lose your ability to make another reservation for the next 6 months in that system, for example. At least when people do cancel, sites can become available at the last minute.

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Yes, using an online-only system in a place with no internet is definitely part of the problem and having to drive somewhere with internet to check reservations is a pain. When I was talking about this with a camp host, she said that someone delivered a printed reservation sheet to her once per day in the morning. Any changes after that is printed won’t get to her until the next day and the information is only one way (meaning she couldn’t notify the system of changes like early departures).

It can be oddly relaxing to have no phone or internet service, but maybe there’s a way to get access for the hosts (who ultimately should control the camp while people are there) without having to put cell towers all over our parks and forests.

I don’t know about others here, but I personally am judging the ever livin snot out of booking hoarders.

They have made it impossible to reserve a space in a park with less than 6 months lead time. Thereare scalpers that do the same thing ticket scalpers do and reserve all the prime stuff and resell them. Not that I am against free enterprise, but they are exploiting a loophole in a bad system.

No shows should IMHO be penalized at double cost of the site to discourage abuse of the system. And the person making the reservation must provide photo ID to actually get the site. THAT would seriously limit this hoarding / scalping garbage that is turning getting a campsite into blood sport these days.

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Agree, there should be penalties for no shows, greater than for those who cancel. Thursday afternoon I looked for sites at a state park and there were a few available. Three hours later there were dozens and I even got a waterfront site; the coming rain (4" fell) had as lot to do with it, I’m sure!

I am not talking about penalizing individuals that have a reservation for their family camping trip and life happens. YES they should cancel. What I honestly believe needs to be addressed is the site hoarding and scalping. The people that reserve prime spots EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND and only show up for one. Or scalpers that reserve an entire block of sites during prime weekends, and then resells those reservations, They should be penalized for this. It should simply be against the terms of service / use and the campground / parks dept should have a 2x the fees rule for those that reserve and resell, with a requirement that the name on the reservation MUST match photo ID at the park.

A LOT of this gargage ends once the abusers are held to account for misusing the system.

So here are a couple of thoughts back in the pre-Reagan days, our national parts and state forests were funded. Camping was FCFS; people knew that when they left home, it was just the way it was…camping, not hoteling. As the state & Natl Parks lost more & more funding (in the name of smaller government) the concierge companies that took the place of Natl Park/state staff looked at our public treasure as a way to make $$, technology hastened the demise.
Yes, it is a convenience to reserve a site. Unless you got the last crappy site available when the nice booked one remains empty.
Hosts also tell of the tiered systems in place where the rules aren’t consistent, nor are the cancellations received in a timely manner.
Many of the spots in OR have moved from FCFS, to mostly FCFS, to mostly reserved to now 100% reserved.
It’s time we start making noise, writing letters and get our parks funded again, they are public treasures, not private investments. I would love to again have park rangers who are law enforcement officers and experts on regional flora and fauna, who love the land be keepers of our public lands.

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I have to agree with David_H1, “A LOT of this garbage ends once the abusers are held to account for misusing the system.”
My biggest gripe is the extended booking to get the wanted time slot for a specific site. Example: I want the second full week in June and in order to secure it I book the first & second full weeks in June at the earliest booking window for the first week and it lets me extend into the second week. Now I have the spot I want and then either let the first week sit empty or cancel at a later date.

But the extended booking window is critical for people who are booking in a busy campground for a time period that goes across two booking windows.

My wife and I were discussing all of this as we enjoyed our morning coffee in a site we’d grabbed last week when someone cancelled. I think requiring and verifying the name and license plate of the person who will be occupying the site would help but going much further will end up hurting people who legitimately have things come up. Whatever the system, people will try to find a way abuse it.